Hypothermia is one of the greatest factors in preventable infant mortality — particularly in low- and middle-income countries — contributing to the deaths of about one million newborns each year. Ideally, infants have skin-to-skin contact with their mother, but in some cases, that’s just not feasible. To help address this issue, civil and environmental engineering professor Ashok Gadgil and Berkeley lab scientist Vi Rapp (Ph.D.’11 ME) have developed technology for a low-cost, non-electric, reusable warming device that has been shown to reduce infant mortality rates from hypothermia.
The Dream Warmer — a wraparound pad that can maintain a temperature of 37 degrees Celsius for approximately six hours — contains a phase-change material that can absorb and steadily release large amounts of heat. Based on an initial design by Berkeley Lab researchers Jonathan Slack, Mike Elam, Roger Sathre and Howdy Goudey (B.S.’97 Eng. Sci.), the newest model uses a wax-based warming indicator developed by Gadgil and Rapp that changes from a liquid to a solid just above body temperature. To use the pad, the warmer is simply immersed in very hot water for about 5 minutes and then cooled for about 15 more minutes before use.
The Berkeley researchers collaborated with a Harvard Medical School team, led by Anne Hansen, and a Rwandan medical research team for a randomized field trial in Rwandan hospitals. In the trial, the Dream Warmer reduced “all-cause mortality” — not just mortality from hypothermia — in infants by a factor of 3, from 2.8% to 0.9%; the trial’s large sample size gives the researchers high confidence in the result. Last year, the technology was selected for an honorable mention in the Patents for Humanity Awards by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Learn more: Safety and effectiveness of a non-electric infant warmer for hypothermia in Rwanda: A cluster-randomized stepped-wedge trial (The Lancet); Performance of a nonelectric infant warmer in Rwandan Health Centers (Global Pediatric Health); A low cost, re-usable electricity-free infant warmer:
evaluation of safety, effectiveness and feasibility (Public Health Action)